Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 16, 2023

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Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 16, 2023

Feb 16, 2023 – Press ISW

Russian forces conducted another missile strike on infrastructure facilities throughout Ukraine on February 16. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces fired 32 air- and sea-launched missiles at Ukraine, including 12 Kh-101/Kh-555 cruise missiles from Tu-95MS aircraft over the Caspian Sea, 8 Kalibr cruise missiles from a Black Sea frigate, 12 Kh-22 cruise missiles from Tu-22M3 long-range bombers over Kursk Oblast, and 2 Kh-59 cruise missiles from Su-35 aircraft over Melitopol, Zaporizhia Oblast. Ukrainian air defense reportedly shot down 14 Kh-101/Kh-555 cruise missiles and 2 Kh-59 cruise missiles, 6 over Mykolaiv Oblast, 2 over Kherson Oblast, and the remainder over western regions of Ukraine. Russian missiles struck infrastructure targets in Lviv, Poltava, Kirovohrad, and Dnipropetrovsk oblasts. Ukrainian Air Force Command spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat noted that Russian forces have changed their tactics and are launching cruise missiles at night, instead of in the middle of day, in order to take Ukrainian air defense forces by surprise.

Iran Update, February 16, 2023

Feb 16, 2023 – Press ISW

Iran and its proxies may be preparing for a major effort with military elements in northern Syria. Senior officers from the IRGC Quds Force, its Iraqi proxies, the Assad regime, and possibly Russian forces have participated in a flurry of meetings throughout Syria in recent days. These meetings are noteworthy given their frequency and the seniority of their participants. Local media has framed many but not all of these meetings as ostensibly related to earthquake relief. That explanation is improbable considering that most participants lead or represent military and paramilitary groups but do not include the officials who would normally be involved in delivering humanitarian assistance and because of reports that Iran is moving fighters and weapons in ostensibly humanitarian convoys.

Salafi-Jihadi Movement Weekly Update, February 15, 2023

Feb 16, 2023 – Press ISW

Somalia. Several large-scale al Shabaab attacks on military bases across Somalia highlight that Somali counterterrorism efforts have not weakened the group’s attack capabilities. Meanwhile, al Shabaab is also well positioned to take advantage of a festering clan-based conflict in northern Somalia’s disputed regions. A prolonged battle would reduce counterterrorism pressure on al Shabaab and Islamic State havens in northern Somalia.

Mali. The Malian junta appointed several pro-Russian figures to high-ranking military positions, indicating growing Russian influence over the Malian government. The junta could be planning to leverage Russian assistance in a northern Mali offensive in a highly unlikely but dangerous scenario. Any such offensive would likely increase links between militia groups and al Qaeda’s Sahelian branch without having long-term success.

Afghanistan. Taliban Minister of Interior and Haqqani Network leader Sirajuddin Haqqani issued a rare public criticism of the Taliban leadership, indicating escalating tensions in the Taliban government. Tension in the Taliban movement will continue to build but is unlikely to result in an intra-Taliban civil war in the short run. However, the Taliban supreme leader’s unwillingness to compromise will alienate important Taliban leaders and raise the risk of fracturing the Taliban movement over time.

Iran Update, February 15, 2023

Feb 15, 2023 – Press ISW

Protest coordinators have likely strengthened their organizational capabilities and internal infrastructure ahead of calls for anti-regime demonstrations on February 16. It is possible that unfavorable conditions such as air pollution and inclement weather will depress protest turnout, although low participation would not necessarily indicate that these organizations will be unable to organize mass unrest in the coming months. Youth group umbrella organization Iranian Neighborhood Youth Union (INYU) has continued to circumvent ongoing internet restrictions to promote the February 16 anti-regime demonstrations. The INYU has additionally employed coordinated shifts in communications tactics to combat the regime’s attempts to disrupt their ability to call for protests.

Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 15, 2023

Feb 15, 2023 – Press ISW

Russia’s costly military campaign in Ukraine has likely significantly depleted Russian equipment and manpower reserves necessary to sustain a successful large-scale offensive in eastern Ukraine. UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told the BBC that the UK had not seen the Russian “massing of a single force to punch through in a big offensive” and noted that Russians are now trying to advance in Donbas at a “huge cost.” Wallace estimated that Russia could have committed up to 97 percent of its army to the fight in Ukraine and that its combat effectiveness has decreased by 40 percent due to an “almost First World War level of attrition” that measures Russian advances in meters in human wave attacks. ISW cannot independently confirm Wallace’s estimates, but his observation that Russia lacks sufficient mechanized combat power for a breakthrough aligns with previous ISW assessments that the conventional Russian military must undergo significant reconstitution before regaining the ability to conduct effective maneuver warfare. Wallace’s observations also suggest that Russia does not have untapped combat-ready reserves capable of executing a large-scale offensive, which is also ISW’s assessment.

Iran Update, February 14, 2023

Feb 14, 2023 – Press ISW

Former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is positioning himself to reenter the political arena after a period of relative absence. Rouhani promoted his administration’s economic, foreign, defense, and health policies in a standing meeting with his former cabinet members on February 13 that he publicized. Rouhani stressed the need to “restore the people’s trust,” implicitly acknowledging deepening divides between the regime and the Iranian public following the Mahsa Amini protest movement, and called on Iranian officials to consider criticisms of the regime seriously. Rouhani framed ongoing unrest as economically-motivated, and endorsed less government involvement in the Iranian economy, a return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and democratically-held elections. Rouhani separately urged his former cabinet to provide policy recommendations to the Raisi administration, stating that “it is (their) national and religious duty to convey every opinion and thought (they) have to the government. Regardless of whether we think it’ll work or not.” It is noteworthy that Rouhani publicized his meeting with former moderate reformist officials, although such meetings are not new. Iranian media previously reported that Rouhani was cooperating with other moderate and reformists in attempt to regain political influence in early 2022.

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Ukraine Conflict Updates

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This page collects ISW and CTP’s updates on the conflict in Ukraine. In late February 2022, ISW began publishing daily synthetic products covering key events related to renewed Russian aggression against Ukraine.

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